Far be it from me to argue with Simon Cowell, but as I watched the finale of American Idol and boy-next-door Kris Allen win the title I finalized a theory I have been brewing for the last few months. You see Simon has told Kris from the beginning that he had to be more confident, cockier, but I would argue that the boy’s humility and lack of cockiness is exactly what won the competition for Kris. And I’m wondering…does this represent a sea change in the arts, particularly in the music industry?
I actually began thinking about this when I attended a keynote speech given by brilliant Dominican author Julia Alvarez. The conference organizer who was doing the introduction stood before us and read a long list of all of Julia’s publications as people shifted in their chairs. She listed every award and accolade (of which there are MANY) whilst the author herself sat on the stage in her rebozo looking uncomfortable and anxious as we were for it to be over with. Finally Julia leaned over to the woman and told her, “You can skip through all that. Please.” She really wasn’t about all that and clearly wasn’t comfortable being fawned over. Now you could argue that the very fact that she would tell the woman to move on displayed a certain level of confidence, but being confident and being arrogant are two very different things. Ms. Alvarez is the former but not the latter. But that very afternoon I was on my elliptical listening to Latin Hip Hop and Reggaeton and it came to me… Perhaps with the current national climate, the time for arrogance is fading.
I was listening to Pitbull and Daddy Yankee and began counting how many times they repeated their names and their record labels as part of the “lyrics.” When I play Nicky Jam’s album “The Black Carpet” it has become a joke between my son and I how many times he says, “Nicky Jams, yo!” over and over and over throughout the recording, as well as the name of the album. I mean, I KNOW who it is and what it’s called, I bought the damn thing, didn’t I? I stopped and admitted that this had begun to seem arrogant and self-indulgent to me. Now I know it was begun as a way for a people who fought for recognition and a voice to represent themselves, a way for unrepresented people to demand to be heard, and I know this has played an important part in the culture of modern music. But though I am far from the usual demographic I think things are changing. I think in this Obamera (Obama-era…I just made that up!) and with the country struggling with the economy and survival we are turning outward rather than inward, confident rather than arrogant.
Now I know the average AI watcher is not going to be into Reggaeton, but I can guarantee that a large amount of those young girls who voted for Kris also paid 99 cents to download Fergalicious, which could not be more self-promoting if it tried, but it was hard not to respond to his total non-pretention and lack of slickness. Though I am a serious Adam fan I couldn’t help but be drawn in to Kris’s shock as they announced his name as the winner. He, like Julia Alvarez, comes across as someone you could be friends with who just happens to be talented and famous. They don’t need to repeat their names over and over again because we remember their names because we like them. We like them because they’re not obnoxious and constantly reminding us that they’re better or more famous. They’re one of us.
Am I just an aging idealist whose channeling her socialist mother, or do you think the “me generation” is now become an “us generation?” One can only hope.